It wasn’t the strongest way to end the season. In the final month the Yankees went 13-17, costing them the AL East crown. Some of those losses came as a sacrifice; the Yankees invoked the old cliche about losing the battle to win the war. But even the regulars had their struggles during the month-long tumble. It has left many fans with a bad feeling heading into the playoffs. This team just hasn’t dominated in the same way it did in 2009. Yet neither of those factors — the relative dominance and the stumbling — should matter much in October.
As Mike said earlier, the Yanks have a fresh start on Wednesday. So do the other three playoff teams. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing for the Yanks. It’s good because they can recover from a rough September. It’s bad because the other playoff teams share the same advantage. None of the four teams played particularly well down the stretch. They didn’t stumble in the same manner the Yankees did, but we’d be kidding ourselves to think any team is heading into the playoffs on a hot streak.
The Yankees opened September with a one-game lead in the AL East. They lost four of seven to the Rays that month, which covered the difference. They also lost one more game otherwise and finished one back. That should say something about how the Rays played during the month. If the Yanks played so poorly, shouldn’t the Rays have run away with the division?
In the final month the Rays went 15-15 despite playing 16 of those games against sub-.500 teams. They were a bit worse at the end, too, losing four of seven to Baltimore and Kansas City. It wasn’t as bad as the Yanks losing six of nine to Boston and Toronto, but then again both of those teams finished the season over .500. Tampa Bay’s losses are a bit less excusable.
Of all the AL postseason teams, the Rangers probably finished the strongest. In their final three series they went 6-5 against Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim. But, again, those aren’t the strongest teams. Oakland was the best among them, as they finished 81-81. If you go back a bit further, though, the results aren’t quite as good. Their final five series all came against AL West teams, and during that span the Rangers went 8-9, losing four of six to Seattle and five of seven to Anaheim. Their seven-game win streak against Toronto, New York, and Detroit was the highlight of the month.
An 18-12 record in September looks good, and was certainly the best among AL postseason teams. Yet even the Twins limped to the finish line. After an 11-1 stretch that essentially eliminated the White Sox from contention, the Twins went 6-10 to finish the season, and lost eight of their last 10 games. Not even the Yankees finished the season that poorly. While it’s true that the Twins started their losing streak once they had the division under wraps, isn’t it also true that the Yankees started playing poorly once they had a playoff spot well at hand?
It’s easy to focus on the Yankees, since they’re the ones we watch for 162 games. But their troubles are not unique. Other teams are in similar positions and find themselves needing to turn around recent poor play. We’ve seen plenty of teams limp into the playoffs and make long runs — we like to cite the 2000 Yankees, but in 2006 both World Series teams, the Cardinals and the Tigers, backed into the playoffs. It appears as though that will be the case, at least in the AL, this year. We have four limping teams meeting up during the next week. At least two of them will shed the crutches and move on.